Thursday, June 24, 2010

INTERCULTURALITY, the path to understand the world

The phenomenon of interculturality has always been at the core of my preoccupations and of my research. In the first article I ever wrote, thirty years ago, I compared, the phenomenon of socialization necessary for every child to enter society, to the awakening of an adult to a new and different culture. Both are crucial to understand not only our society as a whole, but the global world as it is today. It is crucial not to abide merely to a nationalistic and often unavoidably narrow-minded view. Those who seek to understand the world and transform it, those who desire to affect the universal or reflect upon it, should first dig into the local.

Having worked on Sartre (1905-1980) and on Castelli (1907-1999), on an intellectual and on a gallerist, I have been facinated to see how many unexpected common points they shared; I was interested of their function as world citizens, as Europeans looking at American culture and interacting with it in unusual ways, because they were bridgers. Castelli uses his Europeanity, his sense of the length of history to integrate it into the short-pace of the American market life. Sartre on the other hand, is inspired by American democracy and civil society, though he does criticize American foreign policy. Refering to several models, extremely aware of the world and cultures around them, looking beyond borders, they are able to create a wider approach.

Through this blog, I will try to develop and to coin the concept of bridgers: bridgers as the citizens of tomorrow, as those who pave the way to a new ecology. Last week-end, in Cherasco near Alba, around Turin in Italy, I experienced a beautiful coming together of excellence between American artists and Italian wine makers, the Ceretto family, with the memory of the Dukes of Savoy. More later...


Why start a blog today? To write a long book (four to five years as a whole) is like entering a tunnel without knowing exactly how the text will be received on the other end. Sure, there are many contacts along the way, witnesses who check the interviews, academic friends who read a chapter or two, the editors, the agent who read the whole, but still, it was a challenge. What I found so daunting in this project, and so different from the Sartre project, is that, first, Castelli launched most of his achievements through networking and that, second, I had to build the field almost from scratch. There is very little bibliography about the period, and I had to insert Castelli's trajectory both with the tools of the cultural historian and those of the sociologist, as well as keep the scope of the intercultural twist and of the "histoire de la longue durée", which, for some people in the US is somewhat problematic, especially in my decision to go back to Leo's Tuscan roots in the 16th and 17th centuries. Already, in 1941, Claude Lévi-Strauss who was teaching at the New School for Social Research, had noted the reluctance of some of his colleagues to deal with History the way we do in Europe.

The French reception of the Castelli book was certainly unexpected, especially because some had criticized him for destroying French art or for being a CIA spy or who knows what. But the articles emphasized his Italian ancestors, his Francophilia and even the wide press devoted pages and pages to the story of family in Tuscany.

The reception that "Leo & His Circle" has been receiving in the US is no less surprising. Contemplating all the reviews that 'Leo & His Circle' received since it has been published, a month ago, it is funny to note that it inspired the most distinguished scholars of Art History (such as the Society of Contemporary Art Historians, as well as a much wider audience, looking for "condensed beach reading pleasure" ("Ten Juicy Tales from the Leo Castelli biography"

"Did Castelli really have an eye?", I am often asked. I am tempted to answer that this is not the right question. More than an eye, he had a sense of the value of the artist as a citizen, and Castelli did anchor the artist in American society, by creating a "locus", so his impact was more in terms of social status, I think; furthermore, as he had a sense of global culture, he overcame the insularity of American art and gave it a legitimacy that it did not have before; he inserted the career of his artists in the continuity of art history and of European art history ("The single artist I never showed but who was always mentioned was Marcel Duchamp", he said), giving it an intercultural scope. But there is so much more to it, and that will appear little by little, over the next months, over the course of the reading; I consider the book as an open product, whose text is not fully closed; the questions, the suggestions, the critics enrich it and I am, most of the time, grateful for the new insights that I am offered for the second edition.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Raymonde Moulin On 'Leo & His Circle'

Here is an interesting paper written by the sociologist Raymonde Moulin on Leo & His Circle. I find it to be a good introduction to the theme of the blog, as it demonstrates that Castelli was, first and foremost, a bridger.

Leo Castelli (1907-1999) dominated the international contemporary art scene for more than forty years. Annie Cohen-Solal offers us a crucial biography of the European dilettante who, from his galleries in New York, revolutionized the function of gallerist, ensured the promotion and hegemony of American Art worldwide and transformed the status of the artist in the United States. This biography, fueled by interviews and previously unpublished archives, is set in a great multiplicity of contexts: historical, political, sociological and economic.

In the first part of the work, Castelli is described by his genealogy and, moreover, as fitting in the grand historical scheme of the secularization of the Jews in Europe, from the Italian Renaissance to the beginning of the twentieth century. His personal trajectory is typical of that of cosmopolitan and sophisticated young Jews, who, after having lived in the big cities of Europe- for Leo, Trieste, Vienna, Milan, Budapest, Bucharest and Paris- and having been caught in the convulsions of the century, fled to the United States in 1941. He incorporated these traditions with experiments, which contributed to making him the international leader of gallerists in the second half of the twentieth century.

Leo Castelli's gallerist carrier developed gradually. The first step is in France, where he arrives in 1935 with his young and rich wife, Ileana Sonnabend (future gallerist, and partner and accomplice of Castelli’s well after their separation). In July 1939, with his associate Rene Drouin he opens a gallery place Vendôme in Paris, in the same vein as the Gradiva gallery, was launched in May 1937 by André Breton and Marcel Duchamp. Only one exhibition will precede the war, but collaboration with Drouin will continue from 1946 to 1949, when financial hardships force the latter to close down the Place Vendôme gallery.

The second step, that of crucial apprenticeship, occurs between 1946 and 1956 in New York. While in the beginning of the fifties, "a new renaissance was in the process of conquering the New York art scene, Leo Castelli, as an enlightened amateur, was in constant apprenticeship. He was altogether collector, broker, and independent auctioneer, accumulating experiences and trying out every job he could, running from uptown to downtown, gravitating between New York and East Hampton, the US and Europe, between galleries, museums, artists' studios and cafés. He collected, connected and linked…" (page 232)

The broker of Kandinsky from 1948 to 1953, he takes upon himself the transition of the art world from Europe to America. Simultaneously he is, in May 1951, auctioneer of an exhibition reuniting, in an abandoned building in the middle of the East Village, sixty or so young American artists, an event after which Alfred Barr, the founder and director of the Moma, recognizes him as an effective talent scout. The same year, he presents the exhibition "Young US and French Painters" at the Sidney Janis gallery.

It is in 1957, at fifty years of age, that Leo Castelli opens his own space in New York. His sprouting gallery becomes almost instantaneously a leader in the gallery world, by launching Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. " ‘I knew all the Abstract Expressionist painters’, Castelli declared, ‘I knew what they did. They dominated the art scene for a while, so that I had the feeling that something else had to come. I deliberately tempted to discover something new, until I fell on Rauschenberg and Johns’" (page 294).

One of the most notable contributions of this book is its analysis of the work of the gallerist, as conceived by Leo Castelli. Undoubtedly, since the last third of the nineteenth century, the market had started to impose itself as the organization system of artistic life. At this precise moment occurred a decisive mutation: that of the role of the art dealer. The Schumpeterian entrepreneur soon enough replaced the typical merchant: innovating, lending, organizing, taking risks, the merchant became the dynamic agent of the market. Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) is the founding figure of this type of entrepreneurship. Leo Castelli incarnated one of its new versions, in the second half of the twentieth century. He substituted to the strategy of long delays and differed successes, his own strategy of instantaneity and constant renewal. He joined, without delay, a history in the making, discovering and orchestrating the accelerated succession of American artistic movements: Pop Art, Minimal Art, Conceptual Art. He provided, according to the European tradition, financial support to the artists he idealized: Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Wahrol, James Rosenquist and many others. He built on the new contexts of the time: the switch of institutions in favor of the avant-garde, the multiplication of international artistic manifestations and the globalization of exchange. To develop the reputation of his artists, he mobilized the cultural and social networks of which he is familiar, as well as the press. Close to museum directors and togreat critics, ranging from Alfred Barr and Clement Greenberg to Robert Rosenblum, and many other experts, he documented and archived the artworks he found, producing catalogs and selecting collectors to compose certain collections.

His aptitude to create the notoriety of his artists developed simultaneously to his strategy of economic valorization of his various "epiphanies". He built up, for his artists, a clientele of American museums (MOMA, Jewish Museum, local Art Councils, etc…). Simultaneously, he created an international network of satellite galleries, the friendly galleries (during the seventies, Annie Cohen-Solal mentions twelve in Europe and eighteen in North America). Castelli's double intervention, both cultural and economic, leads to the final triumph, at the Venice Biennale, of Robert Rauschenberg in 1964 and Jasper Johns in 1988. The international hegemony of American art is from then on established, while, at the same time, the value of the works of the American stars escalates in US auction sales.

The biography that Annie Cohen-Solal devotes to Castelli, allying empathy and objective distance, is a true pleasure to read. It is not only a major contribution to the social history of American art of the second half of the twentieth century, but it also adds to the sociology of the contemporary art market, in its complex articulation with cultural networks.

Raymonde Moulin

Published in L'Observatoire, Le revue des politiques culturelles, numéro 37, 2010.
Translated from the French by Annie Cohen-Solal and Hélène Barthélemy